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The New York Knicks need a productive 2022 NBA offseason, and that starts with Thursday’s draft.
They could up the excitement this week with an aggressive trade up from No. 4 for a playmaker such as Purdue’s Jaden Ivey or Dyson Daniels of the G League Ignite. They could also stand pat at No. 11 and try extracting value from that spot instead.
We’re exploring the latter possibility here by poring over three expert mocks to see which prospects they have heading to Gotham with the 11th overall pick.
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Malaki Branham didn’t look like a walking bucket when he gave the Ohio State Buckeyes just a single double-digit effort (11 points) through his first 10 outings.
In Game 11, though, the 19-year-old blitzed Nebraska for 35 points, and the production never slowed from there. He wound up topping 15 points a dozen times and had eight different games with 20-plus points, all in conference or NCAA tournament play.
The numbers elevated Branham enough for B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman to mock him to the Knicks at No. 11. They also helped the player earn a Khris Middleton comparison from Wasserman, who cited similarities in their “movement, three-level scoring and on/ off-ball versatility.”
Branham has the handles to free himself from defenders and the skills to shoot off the dribble. He’s also sturdy and versatile on defense. If his shooting sustains and his playmaking perks up, he could be a great get.
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It wasn’t long ago that the center spot seemed like it would rank among New York’s greatest strengths.
However, with free agency awaiting Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel again struggling with injuries and coach Tom Thibodeau playing both Julius Randle and Obi Toppin almost exclusively at power forward, the 5 spot could receive some attention on draft night.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor sees Jalen Duren as New York’s selection.
“Duren can pressure the rim with his elite athleticism, which could be beneficial for guys like RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin,” he wrote. “Duren is also one of the draft’s youngest players, so he would also provide long-term upside to a young team still finding its identity.”
This pick probably hinges on the front office’s willingness to re-sign Robinson, since his return from free agency would fill the void at the 5.
If the Knicks aren’t sold on the 24-year-old (or don’t want to pay what he’ll cost), then Duren could be a similarly skilled, rim-running replacement.
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When analyzing expert mocks, sometimes the best information can be gleaned from trends.
That’s why it feels notable to find a second expert—this time, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated—sending a center to the Empire State.
“[Mark] Williams has a chance to leapfrog Duren on draft night due to his reliability, defensive impact and sheer size: he measured at 7′ 2″ in shoes at the combine with a 7′ 6.5″ wingspan and 9′ 9″ standing reach,” Woo wrote. “He’d be a long-term upgrade at the position with Mitchell Robinson about to hit free agency and give the Knicks some legitimate interior backbone.”
Like Duren, Williams is a true center, meaning he can control the interior but doesn’t add a ton of value away from it. His shooting form at least looks interesting, but his lateral movements aren’t swift and he offers nothing but the absolute basics as a passer.